In my first post I talked about the history of social networking from 1985-2002 dominated by CompuServe, AOL & Yahoo! In the second post I explored the current era which covers Web 2.0 (blogs, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook), Realtime (Twitter), and mobile (Foursquare). Is the game over? Have Facebook & Twitter won or is their another act? No prizes for guessing … there’s always a second (and third, and fourth, and fifth) act in technology. So where is social networking headed next? I make eight predictions below.
1. The Social Graph Will Become Portable
Right now our social graph (whom we are connected to and their key information like email addresses) is mostly held captive by Facebook. There is growing pressure on Facebook to make this portable and they have made some progress on this front. Ultimately I don’t believe users or society as a whole will accept a single company “locking in” our vital information.
Facebook will succumb to pressure and over time make this available to us to allow us more choice in being part of several social networks without having to spam all of our friends again. I know in 2010 this doesn’t seem obvious to everybody but it’s my judgment. Either they make our social graph portable or we’ll find other networks to join. I predict this will come before the end of 2012.
Since 2006 I have been lamenting what I see as “the Facebook problem” – they are trying to lump me into one big social network. Nobody exists in one social network. I have the one with my friends where I want to talk about how wasted we were at the party last weekend that I don’t want to share with my family network where I share pictures of the kids with my parents and siblings.
I don’t want either of these mixed with the business social network in which I want to maintain the appearance that I’m “all business” and certainly don’t want to see college pictures of me in Mexico floating around. I don’t want to mix my “public network” with my “private networks.” Facebook has jumbled these all together and then tried to bandage it by making groups available. I don’t think this really solves the problem.
And young people aren’t stupid – they certainly aren’t as digitally naïve as their elders like to think. To get around all of this jumbling of social graphs they simply create multiple Facebook accounts under pseudonyms or “nom du guerre” for their real discussions and more pristine Facebook accounts for their real names. I wonder how many of Facebook’s 500 million users are created for this purpose? I’ve confirmed this trend with several young people.
I believe that people already form topical social networks as evidenced in places like HackerNews or Quora. We are also seeing the growth of social networks around topics of interest like StockTwits for people interested in investing in the stock market. There are new networks forming to try and address the needs of specific social networks such as Namesakethat is in its experimental stage but sees a world in which people want to network outside of Facebook.
3. Privacy Issues Will Continue to Cause Problems: Diaspora
Facebook made a deal with us that our social network was private. When they jealously watched the rise of Twitter they decided that it should be made more public, but that wasn’t the bargain we made when we signed up in the first place. If I were Facebook I would have simply created two places where you could network, Facebook “private” and Facebook “open.” The latter product could have competed directly with Twitter and could have had an asymmetric follow model.